Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Migration Starts Despite the Weather
March 01, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     You wouldn’t know it by the freezing temperatures or the snow covered ground that the spring bird migration is already underway! The red-winged blackbirds have been arriving in small flocks, along with an accompaniment of cowbirds. Though most people are surprised to see them in February, I think they are a couple of weeks late. I was looking for redwings in mid-February, but maybe this year they smartened up just a bit and waited a few extra days. As it is, we will still likely get snow after they arrive, just as we always do!

     A few grackles have found their way here as well, though not enough to be quite a nuisance yet. It won’t be but a few weeks until the phone rings with complaints that hoards of grackles are taking over the feeders. They quickly take over the “enemy number one” spot (over squirrels) for at least a few weeks.

     Also heralding spring is the arrival of woodcock on the south shore of Massachusetts, so it won’t be long before we witness their courtship rituals on Plum Island and elsewhere. A few killdeer have made their way into Massachusetts already, so I keep listening for them outside the store.

     Even more surprising is the appearance of a few isolated tree swallows in eastern Massachusetts – quite early for them. Usually they are delayed long enough to give the bluebirds a “wing up” on the selection of available nesting sites. Still, it will be a few more weeks before the swallows arrive in any numbers.

     Another surprise was several reports of very early Eastern phoebes. The first of these flycatchers usually don’t arrive until the second week of March. I must say that I haven’t seen any flying insects, their primary source of food, buzzing around anywhere in my travels. They may opt for berries or some seeds when it is this cold and insects just are not available.

     It is still the first week of March, but this is the month in which spring officially starts. It is also the month that bluebirds start to look for nest boxes to begin their first nesting. Too often they start before they really should, with the result often being an unsuccessful first brood in years when Mother Nature deals out harsh early spring weather. 

     I am amazed at the number of customers who have told me that they have bluebirds visiting their suet feeder during the past several weeks. It is not that bluebirds are not around here in the winter – they are. And it is not that bluebirds are eating suet – they do. But for so many people to be experiencing bluebirds is such a delight. It wasn’t that long ago when I mostly heard “I have never seen a bluebird” or “I haven’t seen a bluebird in years.” 

     The fact that so many bluebirds are around is due, primarily, to the efforts of humans. Curtailing the use of harmful pesticides was the first big step. Offering nest boxes as an alternative to loss of appropriate habitat and nesting sites is another effort that is reaping rewards. Planting fruit bearing trees and shrubs that retain their fruit during the colder months has also been an aid. In addition, the offering of mealworms, suet, and fresh water to supplement what nature has to offer helps to make it easier for them to prosper.

     So it is not too early to think about adding a bluebird nest box. You might consider where on your property would be suitable. They feed on insects on or near the ground, so any area open area might be attractive to them. Once the snow leaves us, you can put out their nest box, or clean out existing ones, to invite these beautiful birds to your yard. Now that thought should provide you with some spring warmth!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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